This year marks the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook's arrival in Australia. Of course, the antipodal continent was already occupied for millennia before Cook's arrival, so we'll sidestep any debate about the importance of a white European's "discovery," but there is no doubt that the British captain was an intrepid explorer. His sea voyages took him from England to Alaska, Antarctica and the South Pacific, in an age when crossing the oceans was a perilous endeavor. Captain Cook's name will forever be tied to discovery and oceangoing bravery.
Rado called its first diving watch the ďCaptain CookĒ back in 1962 and the name stuck. That first generation Captain Cook was typical of that early age of diving watches, with traditional styling, modest dimensions and water resistance and an outer rotating timing ring. Two years ago, Rado released its Hyperchrome Tradition Captain Cook, a faithful re-issue of that 1962 original, and it garnered much praise from watch fans and the press (including yours truly). The watch, at 37mm, was a tad small for some accustomed to big divers, but Rado also produced a 45mm version and, just recently announced a 42mm version with dial color variants, fully acknowledging the popularity of the Captain Cook line.
What's old is new again: the author's vintage Captain Cook (left) and the new MK II (right).
By the late '60s, watch styles were already changing and Rado was one of the brands that led the trend towards funky shaped cases and colorful dials that fully blossomed in the Age of Aquarius. The second generation Captain Cook, which debuted only shortly after the original, was indicative of this aesthetic shift, bearing no similarity to its forebear. Its high-polished steel case was dramatically curved with hooded lugs and, most noticeably, sported an inner timing that resided under the high domed acrylic crystal. It was also wildly colorful, with that timing ring composed of red and white dots and blocks. At Baselworld 2018, Rado gave a sneak peek at a new watch, dubbed the Tradition Captain Cook MK II, yet another faithful re-issue, that paid tribute to that second generation Captain. Would second time be a charm, or would the watch suffer the sophomore slump? I recently got some hands-on time with one of the MK IIs and found it as charming as the first one.
At 37 x 40 millimeters, this is a faithfully-sized retro watch.
As far as retro styling goes, the 1950s and '60s is the sweet spot. We love our Speedies and Subs, Seamaster 300s and Divers Sixty-Five. Thereís just something classic, versatile and wearable about those round cases and long curved lugs. But then things got messy and experimentalóbulbous cases, lots of color, garish fonts. Some brands have tried to revive these more avant-garde style, but though the Ploprof and Speedmaster MK II have their devotees, it's a harder sell to the masses. The Captain Cook MK II is no different: Itís a weird watch that simply shouldnít work on modern wrists, but it does.
The dial and bezel aren't wanting for visual interest.
At 37mm across the case and only 40mm top to bottom, this is a faithfully tiny watch. The 18mm grains-of-rice bracelet tapers to 16mm at the clasp, making this diver feel altogether like a time machine, in more ways than one. I went on record in my review of the first Captain Cook as saying the smaller size didnít bother me and the same applies here. In fact, far from not just ďnot bothering me,Ē I adore this diminutive watch. Even more so than its predecessor, the MK II wears a little bigger, perhaps due to the added metal of the bracelet and the bigger dial opening.*
One of the features of vintage watches lost in most of their recent re-issues is their comfort, thanks namely to heavier bracelets and upsized cases. That is not the case here. The Captain Cook MK II retains all the light breeziness of an early '70s watch, sliding on the wrist effortlessly and hugging it without feeling heavy and obtrusive. The original Rolex Explorer, the Blancpain Bathyscaphe, and the Zodiac Sea Wolf were all originally 35mm and 36mm, and these watches were used for far tougher exploits than most of us will ever hope to do with our modern desk-diving leviathans. And while the Captain Cook MK II maybe isnít the first watch you think of for a winter K2 ascent or diving the Andrea Doria, with its 220 meters of water resistance, it's also no slouch.
Twin signed crowns manipulate the inner timing ring (3:00) and wind and set the movement (4:00).
Thereís a lot of visual interest in this watch and while itís not to everyoneís taste, itís anything but boring. The dial is an inky black, set off by those blocky hands and applied faceted hour markers. Aside from the simple Captain Cook name at the bottom, thereís the Rado name at 12, with the trademark anchor logo that spins as your wrist moves. I had a recent discussion with a friend about this "feature," that has been on Rados since way back. He had heard that the spinning anchor was an indicator of service intervals for the watch: when it stopped spinning freely, it was time for a movement service. I hadnít heard this before and checked with Rado, who confirmed that, historically, the anchor was mounted on a lubricated ruby bearing behind the dial and, when the oil there ran dry and it stopped moving easily, it would be a sign that the movementís oils need refreshing. Rado even held a Swiss patent on this feature. On modern Rados, this is not the case anymore, but remains as a nod to the brand's history.*
The simple foldover pushbutton clasp is finished like its vintage forebear.
Inside the Captain Cook MK II ticks the same C07.611 movement used in the first-gen Hyperchrome Captain Cook, and in other Swatch Group watches from Tissot, Mido and Hamilton. With 80 hours of power reserve and highly anti-magnetic escapement, itís a fine motor for an affordable sports watch. Rado wisely chose to hide away this workhorse movement behind a decidedly retro caseback decorated with three seahorses, straight off the vintage version.
A pair of Captains.
By now, if youíre a follower of the watch scene and a faithful HODINKEE reader, youíre probably wondering something. Why was the Captain Cook MK III released before the MK II? If youíll recall, back in August, we told you about the MK III, a modernist take on an internal bezel diver that was to be available only from Macyís here in the U.S. I donít have a good answer for you, but I will say that I did handle an early version of the MK II at Baselworld last March and had hoped to get some time with it during the summer. Better late than never, here it is, almost a year later. While the MK III didnít interest me (Iím a sucker for faithful vintage re-issues), the Captain Cook MK II was worth the wait. And just in time for the 250th anniversary of its namesakeís arrival Down Under.
The Rado Hyperchrome Tradition Captain Cook MK II is a limited edition of 1,962 pieces, with a price of $2,150 on bracelet with an additional nylon strap. More information can be found here.*
Photos by Gishani Ratnayake.


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